The International Seabed Authority and Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML) today signed a 15-year contract for exploration for polymetallic nodules in an area covering 74,153 km2 in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean. This marine area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction is one of a number of reserved areas earmarked for developing countries such as the Kingdom of Tonga and was ceded by ISA contractors from Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and France.

The application for the approval for exploration plan was initially submitted in 2008. In July 2011, representatives from the Tonga Offshore Mining Company Ltd, the Solicitor-General of Tonga and another government official, as well as senior executives of Nautilus Minerals Inc. made an oral presentation before ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission (LTC).  After a detailed examination of the financial and technical capability of the proposed contractor, which included requests for updated financial data from Nautilus and clarifications regarding shipping routes crossing the claim area, the LTC recommended the approval of the request.

The sponsoring State, the Kingdom of Tonga is now one of only two countries – the other being Nauru which signed a contract with ISA on 22 July 2011 – that have benefited from a clause in the United Nations  Convention on the Law of the Sea that reserves areas of the international deep seabed Area for use by a developing State entity.

Tonga Offshore Mining Company Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nautilus Minerals Inc., the first company to commercially explore the seafloor for massive sulphide systems, a potential source of high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver. The world’s first seafloor copper-gold project, Solwara 1, is currently under development in Papua New Guinea.

“2011 was a historic year for the Authority. Four new exploration contracts were granted to China, the Russian Federation, Nauru and Tonga by our Council and Assembly in July 2011. This brings the number of such contracts to 12, the highest level since the Authority was established in 1994,” said Nii Odunton, Secretary-General. “After years of patient and diligent preparatory work, notably in environmental and normative areas, operational activities are no longer a distant prospect”.

Present at the signing ceremony were Nii Allotey Odunton, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, Michael Lodge, Deputy to the Secretary-General and Legal Counsel of the Authority; Gwenaëlle Le Gurun, Legal Officer of the Authority, Paul Taumoepeau, the Tonga Country Manager of TOML, and Samantha Smith, Environmental Manager, Nautilus Minerals Inc.